Finished cattle most stressed by heat

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Farm Forum

Just like humans, cattle can be stressed by high temperatures and humidity.

The main concern is cattle dying from the extreme heat, said Warren Rusche, South Dakota State University Extension cow-calf field specialist.

“We can recover from performance loss,” he said.

Performance loss is when beef cattle lose their fat.

Like people, cattle don’t like to eat when it’s hot, Rusche said.

“If they aren’t eating, they aren’t growing,” he said.

Careful monitoring of feed is necessary on hot days.

“You want to be careful. Some cattle won’t eat one day and eat a lot the next day,” Rusche said. “Manage feed bunks very careful to prevent digestive issues.”

Veterinarian Greg Adolf of Northern Plains Animal Health in Aberdeen recommends feeding cattle at night or early in the morning.

“Definitely try to feed during the cooler part of the day, because digestion does create heat,” he said.

Fat cattle have the greatest risk of heat exhaustion.

“Typically, the ones at the biggest risk are the feedlot cattle that are close to being finished. Fat cattle are going to hold in a lot of heat,” Adolf said.

So far, there haven’t been reports of cattle deaths due to the heat, Rusche said.

Both death and performance loss can be avoided by providing adequate cooling systems.

And, Adolf said, “If there’s a breeze, it makes a huge difference.”

Cattle in barns should have fans on them, and the barns need to have ventilation, he said. Pasture or feedlot cattle should have shade, along with a good supply of water.

Not only do cattle need more water during heat waves, they also need more water space. In other words, there needs to be more room at the water tank so more cattle can drink at the same time. Temporary tanks might need to be set up, Rusche said.

Sprinklers will also keep cattle cool.

“Sprinkling cools the ground down and wets the cattle,” Rusche said. “Combined with air movement, (sprinklers) will cool them down.”

Standing water can be a doubled-edged sword, Adolf said.

While it will provide a way for the herd to cool off, standing in water for a long time can cause other issues, such as foot rot, he said.

Heat exhaustion can lead to other health problems.

“(The heat) is putting them under additional stress. Think of ourselves, when we’re stressed, (we’re) susceptible to other diseases,” Rusche said.

Not working cattle is one way to reduce stress. Moving or herding them in the heat is unwise, Adolf said.

Just like feeding, that should be delayed until the cooler part of the day, he said.

Beyond that, common sense should prevail.

“Check them regularly. To be honest, it isn’t a whole lot different than any other time. It sounds simple, (and) for the most part it is,” Adolf said.

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Heat exhaustion symptoms in cattle

• Panting

• Laying down

• Being unwilling or unable to stand

• Wobbly, almost staggering

Source: Veterinarian Greg Adolf of Northern Plains Animal Health